Drinking flasks are American icons found throughout history. They are thought to have been created first by Norwegians, a nomadic people who needed something durable, and capable of carrying their beverages over long distances.
The Earliest Flasks
The earliest flasks, also called canteens, were made of leather and remained popular through early American history, even used by soldiers in WWII. They were larger than the silver and glass flasks that gained popularity in the early 1800’s.
When the Masonic Lodges met in local taverns in the early 1800s, they were served food and drinks after meetings, but were responsible for bringing their own liquor. As window glass gained popularity, glass flasks were created as a by-product. These flasks, once cooled, hardened, and removed from their molds, would carry anywhere from a pint to a quart of liquid. Elliptical, or ovate in shape; with flat or convex sides, Masonic flasks rose to a shoulder, or tapered directly into a short neck. This particular design allowed them to fit conveniently and discreetly in a pocket.
Many of the glass houses were run by Masons, or had Masonic employees, due to the high demand of masonry during this period. Thus, a variety of Masonic symbols were often etched into the molds for decoration. As a result of the fire needed for the creation of glass, flask houses frequently burned to the ground. This meant that there were always new designs being created, while older ones were, by necessity, discontinued. Collecting these old glass flasks has become a past time for some, kept not only for their beauty but for their historical value.
Through the 1800s, other glass houses created beautiful works of art showcasing portraits of the Founding Fathers of America, and other historical figures. These figures were depicted in a classic bust style on either clear glass, or various shades of amber, blue, honey, and aquamarine. These remain popular collectors’ items today.
In the 1860s, the glass industry enjoyed rapid expansion. Flasks, in turn, no longer adhered to such strict guidelines. Plain flasks with paper labels became common. Quarts and fifth gallon sizes became more popular during this time period.
The silver flask also gained popularity during the 1800s. While smiths experimented with various metals, silver and pewter were found to reactive least with the liquids they held. Silver became more popular as it was believed to enhance the properties of alcohol; meanwhile pewter was sometimes contaminated with lead. Silver flasks are prized by collectors for their beauty, resilience, and high quality. They are often placed at a higher value than most other flasks.
Prohibition and the Heyday of Flasks
Flasks enjoyed their heyday during the days of the American Prohibition in the 1920s. One could be denied many things, but liquor was not one of them. Small and discreet, flasks could easily be concealed on most men’s daily wear, or in a lady’s purse.
Later Uses of Flasks
Though the use of flasks was no longer a necessity after Prohibition, they never completely lost their appeal. Before ballparks began selling their own beer, flasks were an essential item for any spectator.
When glass carrying containers became banned from public events and metal detectors were introduced, plastic flasks were manufactured to answer the continuing demand. These flasks were generally made of white plastic and were carried in a cloth pouch slung over the shoulder, or were simply dropped into a pocket to be carefully concealed.
Today’s Stainless Flasks
Today’s stainless steel flasks are made in a wide variety of styles. 18/10 stainless steel is a popular material because it’s not only durable and attractive, but can be found in an array of gorgeous designs. Generally found in sizes ranging from 6- to 9- ounces, the shape, texture, and even color are limited only by the imagination. Most have a screw on lid attached to an arm that’s attached to the flask, so the lids are never lost. Sleek and sexy, higher quality, stainless steel flasks in unique and classy designs, are status symbols among collectors.
The leather flasks of today differ from the older models, though the early leather styles can still be found. Modern leather flasks have stainless steel bodies and are wrapped with stylish leather which can come in a variety of colors.
Plastic flasks are popular with college crowds. Inexpensive and disposable, they make great refreshment carriers for those who would rather not risk losing a more expensive flask. Of course, we do not recommend anyone under legal drinking age to consume alcohol… but if you are going to then don’t blow college tuition on a solid gold flask… Just saying.
Flasks are not only useful accessories but also also attractive collector’s items that come with a long and proud history. Some were created hundreds of years ago and bring a rich history into the modern era making fantastic gifts to yourself, or a present to a lucky friend.